Love Story Revives Kashmiri Cinema After 39 Years
18 June 2006
Srinagar: Hundreds of Muslims watched in rapt attention on Saturday night at an old, closely guarded cinema hall in Srinagar, the centre of a violent, 16-year Islamist revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir. But it wasn't an anti-India sermon being delivered by an imam in the Muslim-majority state. Instead, weary of the wrangling and conflict over their region, they were watching the premiere of 'Akh Daleel Loolech' (A Love Story), the first Kashmiri-language feature film to be made in nearly four decades. The 100-minute feature centres around the love story of a poor village boy and a rich girl in the 19th century when Kashmir was an independent state ruled by a Hindu king. The film is being hailed as a strong attempt to preserve Kashmiri nationalism and boost the culture and history of a people who feel alienated from the rest of India. 'It is a very, very significant event,' Rehman Rahi, a popular Kashmiri writer and poet said at the premiere. 'It is a pointer towards the resurgence of Kashmiri nationalism.' The Himalayan region has been at the heart of nearly 60 years of enmity between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan. Both claim the region in full, rule it in parts and have fought two wars over it. An Islamist revolt against New Delhi's rule in the region has killed tens of thousands of people. It has also taken a toll on the social and cultural lives of Kashmiris. Militants ordered cinemas, liquor shops and beauty parlours to be shut down, forcing cable television - with its staple of song-and- dance Bollywood films and music videos - to become the main entertainment across the region. STRUGGLING ART The scenic state was once also a popular destination for Indian film shoots. But the revolt ended Bollywood's romance with the region until a few years ago when a trickle of filmmakers began returning. A lone cinema hall, a few wine stores and dozens of beauty parlours have also begun operating in the region. But no Kashmiri had ventured to make a film in the local language since 'Habba Khatoon', a true story about a famous 14th-century Kashmiri poetess queen which was released 39 years ago. Local filmmakers say making a movie in Kashmir is a distant dream and nothing substantial had been done by authorities to encourage Kashmiri cinema, which has so far produced only half a dozen features. 'Even before the (militant) trouble began, it was difficult to produce a Kashmiri feature film because of the lack of finances, infrastructure and lack of encouragement by the authorities,' said Fayaz Dilbar, a filmmaker. 'The local industry is completely overshadowed by Bollywood.' 'Akh Daleel Loolech' also portrays the social and political struggle of Kashmiris against forced labour by feudal lords and Hindu rulers. Kashmir's Hindu king acceded to India at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, sowing the seeds for discontent in the Muslim-majority region. 'Our endeavour is also to showcase the plight of ordinary Kashmiris that has not changed for over a century,' the film's director, Aarshid Mushtaq, told Reuters. He said the film was shot in digital format to make it widely accessible as there are few cinema halls in Kashmir. It would be available on DVDs, video CDs and would also be sold online. 'We hope 'Akh Daleel Loolech' will go a long way in paving the way for the beginning of cinema in Kashmir,' said Tariq Javaid, the film's producer who also plays the role of the feudal lord.